Chino Hills’ memorable and dominant side in Lonzo Ball’s senior season is remembered largely for being the lone season with the three Ball brothers played together. The result was an undefeated record and a state title and a top national ranking.
The two forgotten starters on that side were Elizjah Scott and Onyeka Okongwu. Scott is a sophomore at Loyola Marymount while Okongwu, a freshman during Chino Hills’ historic season, is wrapping up his high school career with the Huskies.
Over the weekend, Chino Hills fell in the Division I title game in California with Okongwu leading the way this season. The USC commit scored 29 points in the game and averaged 26 points per game this season.
Prior to the Division I title game, Okongwu spoke with the Long Beach Press-Telegram about many things heading into his final high school games, including his freshman season and the Ball family.
“To be honest, I was just a freshman back then and all I wanted to do was play basketball. I didn’t care about the spotlight. When Coach (Latimore) came in, it was good for us because it was more like college basketball. Before, we just ran LaVar’s system.”
Okungwu added later in the piece that he’ll occasionally talk to fellow classmate LaMelo but “rarely” talks to Lonzo and “never” talks to LiAngelo.
Dennis Latimore is the second-year head coach Ball butted heads with some badly that LaMelo Ball was pulled out of high school, starting his wild ride that now has him at SPRIE Institute (Geneva, Ohio). Latimore replaced Steve Baik and Stephan Gillings as the head coach of Chino Hills, bringing with him a drastically new system than the Ball system.
Latimore talked about both why the Ball system worked for that team and why it didn’t work for his current side.
“They trapped, didn’t want to play defense, and shot 3s. That works if you have superior talent, and Eli Scott (now at Loyola Marymount) is pulling down 20 rebounds a game. Otherwise you have to work harder, practice harder, be accountable, be careful with your language, even something like just being on time. Some guys struggled with that. Some didn’t want to be coached. It’s a work in progress.”
That Chino Hills side was uniquely qualified to run an up-and-down system with Lonzo Ball and Scott able to control the boards as the duo grabbed a combined nearly 20 boards per game. As Latimore notes, though, that type of system requires certain personnel that his side no longer had at Chino Hills, even if LaVar Ball didn’t agree.
It’s hard to disagree with Latimore as he got his side back to the Division I title game with his style and without a Ball in the lineup.
At the end of the day, it’s a situation that worked out for both parties. Chino Hills got a new start, Okongwu proved he was not a product of the system or playing next to the Ball brothers and the Ball family was able to create the JBA, playing in Lithuania and eventually return to America at SPIRE.